Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

The Apostle Paul, who was unmarried, said this in Colossians 7:32-35, “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.”

I had a hard time with that scripture for many years because, quite honestly, I’ve always desired to be married. It wasn’t until year 5 of being single and seeking God’s kingdom first that the lightbulb came on. I’m a slow learner, I know.

First, Paul very clearly says that this is a suggestion, not a commandment or restriction. He’s just saying, “Hey, this is my recommendation.” That always made it easy for me to brush off this segment of scripture. I could say, “Oh well, that’s his opinion because he was single. So of course, he’d suggest everyone do it his way.” But what he’s really saying is that Christ should be our central and foremost focus.

Second, my deep revelation about this scripture had less to do with the married versus unmarried aspect, but more to do with the heart condition. I realized it has more to do with where our focus is. God’s greatest concern is always for our heart and if it is turned toward Him.

If we truly call ourselves Christ followers, we must follow Jesus first, above all else. Dating, marriage, and relationships can be a distraction from our primary focus. That’s not always the case. And romantic relationships aren’t the only culprit. Many things can distract us from our relationship with God. Television, friendships, activities, and even our own kids can be a distraction from God.

I’m not saying you need to cancel your cable, disconnect your phone, and move to Tibet. What I am saying is that it’s important to look at the distractions in our lives and take note of what/who is pulling our eyes away from Jesus. What or who is leading you away from God rather than drawing you closer? And then the tough one: What do I need to give up partially or completely in order to draw nearer to Christ?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”    ~Hebrews 12:1

To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn

Life is made up of seasons. After winter is spring. After spring comes summer. After summer is fall. And so it goes. We learn this in kindergarten. Yet it takes us until much later in adulthood to realize how profoundly true it is in every area of our lives. There are times of abundance and times of lack. Friendships that ebb and flow. The tide rises and then it falls. As the late, great Jim Rohn said on the topic, “…When you get your own planet, you can set it up any way you like, but as long as you’re on this one, it’s just the way it is.”

You can either enjoy each season as it is, while it lasts or you can spend your life miserable, fighting against the rising and setting of the sun. You know those people that are always wishing things were different? If it’s summer, they wish it was winter. When it’s snowing, they wish it was 70 degrees. If it’s night, they wish it was daytime. If they’re married, they wish they were single. If they landed a new job, they want the next big promotion. And if they had a car, they wish it was a plane. They’re miserable no matter what because nothing is as they want it to be. We all know someone like that. They could be living in Tahiti, sipping Mai Tai’s and undoubtedly praying for snow.

Many of us fall into this trap. We want to get to the next stage. We want to hurry up the process and move to greener pastures. But in doing so we miss out on the beauty around us right now. I’m a planner. So I totally get it. I’ve fallen into this snare more than once myself. Hoping for things to change, wishing for circumstances to be different, pressing toward a goal. But I missed out on the season I was in. Change comes. It’s inevitable. Circumstances will always shift. And while ambition is great, it can also lead to discontentment.

Singledom is also a season. You can choose to embrace it and enjoy the season of getting to know yourself, your Creator, and who He made you to be. You can maximize your time of learning who you are, Who God is, and what He has planned for you. Or you can get caught up in discontentment, missing the beautiful perspective and priorities that being single allows you.

Think about it. As a single, unattached person, you can come and go as you please. You can cook whatever you want for dinner. Or not cook at all. You have the freedom to serve and volunteer as much as you want. You can go to lunch with your friends without a second thought. Whether you have children or not, as a single person, you have certain freedoms that are easy to take for granted. You can sit up in your bed until 2am, reading your Bible and writing on your computer with the lights on… Hypothetically.

Enjoy those freedoms. Embrace this season of singledom. If for no other reason, so that when the time comes to be in a relationship, you can move fully into that next season without regrets.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

One Is The Loneliest Number

When I found myself single again and broken by an abusive relationship nearly 6 years ago, I swore I would do things differently. I would do things “God’s way.” That sounded great in theory, but how? And what does that even look like? I had learned well what NOT to do. My battered heart and body were obvious signs of that. How would I know what a good, godly man and relationship might be like? How could I even conceive of being vulnerable again? What’s healthy and what’s not? My mind was a jumble of questions. But I was determined in one thing: to choose something better.

It’s been a long journey, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. After having a series of conversations with single women recently, asking many of the above questions, I realized how much I have grown. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do have some wisdom on the topics of singledom, dating with dignity, and honoring God in the process.

I’m reminded of the Three Dog Night song as referenced in the title, “One Is the Loneliest Number.” I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s lonely being single. That part can suck. But I also remind myself of the rest of the lyrics in the chorus, “…two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Have you ever been in a relationship like that? I’ve sat on the same couch and felt miles away from my partner. There’s nothing worse than being in a relationship that still leaves you feeling empty and lonely.

So often I have conversations with single friends who are jealous of those who are coupled up and I remind them that loneliness, just like singledom is a choice. I’d rather be single and occasionally deal with pains of loneliness than hop into the first relationship opportunity just to change my Facebook status, yet still feel lonely.

More importantly, as a Christ follower, it is imperative to make the distinction between loneliness and being alone. I am never truly alone as a Christ follower. He is my Source, Comforter, and Lover of my Soul. Looking to a relationship to fill the “loneliness void” points to a greater issue. Another person can’t make me feel whole or complete. Only God can fix us. There are times when I feel lonely. But I’m never alone.

The longer I have been single, though, the more I have learned to focus my attention on God. I seek Him to fulfill my needs, not another person. God has placed some amazing friends in my life who hold me accountable and point me to Jesus. But ultimately, my relationship with Jesus is my own. When I have moments of loneliness, rather than scoping the dating websites or calling a friend, I turn to God in prayer. I search my heart to honestly assess where those feelings are coming from. Then I ask Holy Spirit to comfort me and remove any feelings of insecurity, loneliness, or envy of couples.

When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. ~Psalm 94:19 [NLT]

Fix You

Let me start by saying I am a huge Coldplay fan. I love their soothing ballads. The song with the above title, “Fix You,” is no exception. However, in pondering the message (and many songs like it), I shouldn’t be surprised by the epidemic of codependency I see in the world.

At it’s core, codependency says, “my happiness is directly dependent on the happiness of another.” More so, a codependent person will go to great lengths to “fix,” please and ultimately enable the object of their codependency. We mistakenly convince ourselves that if we love someone enough, they’ll get better. Much like the aforementioned song implies. What’s worse, is when the other party doesn’t change, we blame ourselves.

So why all this talk of codependency? Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s talked about in a realistic light enough. Secondly, I see attributes of codependency romanticized in television and social media. For one who has lived through the horrors of it, that is infuriating!! Losing yourself in someone else’s addiction, abuse or insanity is NOT attractive. Yet our society would have us believe it is admirable.

If you are attracted to a person that is a hot mess and your primary focus is to “fix” them or “help” them, you are heading down a very messy, unfulfilling and possibly dangerous road. If the relationship is satisfying your own need to feel needed, it cannot end well.

I only speak from a perspective of one who has been there! One who has confused pity for love. One who had an inexplicable need to find the most “tattered orphan on the side of the road” and nurse them back to health. In my least healthy state, I would jokingly say I was a professional turd polisher.

The most ironic part is when we seek to help someone who is so broken, damaged or tortured by means of a romantic relationship, there can only be one of two outcomes: 1) They never get better. Your helping actually becomes a crutch and enables them to continue their insanity [addiction, abuse, self-destruction]. 2) They do find recovery. You play a vital role in their healing and they become a better person. And as much as they appreciate your help, they move on.

The first outcome is the most frequent one I see (and experienced). It’s a long and “bloody” road. The codependent party blames themselves for the lack of progress and loses themselves in the “project.” Somewhere along the way it becomes all about the other person and their problems.

If you are romantically involved with someone who (regardless of how deep your love and attraction) is a tortured soul and your world revolves around making them better, please see me on the side of the road holding a BIG sign saying, “Danger, Will Robbins!!!”

The second outcome is perhaps more painful. You feel like things are going well. They’re getting the help they need. Their relapses are becoming less and less. The relationship and your partner are moving in a positive direction. And then… BAM! They can’t explain exactly why, but they’re just not feeling it anymore. Maybe it feels to them like you’re growing apart. The sad truth is you played a vital role in their recovery, but now that your purpose has been served, the relationship fizzles. You’re left feeling used and abandoned. All the time you invested into helping that person heal will only benefit someone else.

How do you avoid either of these impossibly disheartening outcomes? Don’t get romantically involved with them in the first place. Completely remove yourself from the situation. Recognize the person  for who they truly are and where they are in life!! Take a realistic assessment of their emotional IQ and ability to be in a mutually beneficial relationship.

This step has eluded me many times! It’s so easy to get swept up in the emotions of it all. The desire to feel needed and wanted blinds us to common sense. I implore you to stop. Take a step back. Analyze the situation. Take the blinders off and look for any unhealthy habits or situations. Does he drink more than you are comfortable with? Is he defensive when you bring it up? Did she recently leave an abusive relationship? Is she looking to you to “rescue” her? Does he push your boundaries? Are you allowed to say “no” without retaliation?

Don’t justify. Don’t excuse. And please don’t ignore your intuition or wise friends’ counsel. It’s hard to hear your best friend ask you the night before your wedding if you’re sure this is what you really want because she’s pretty sure you’ll regret this [yes, that really happened]. But don’t ignore it! The subtle (or glaringly obvious) signs are difficult to recognize when you’re involved with someone. It’s complicated. There are feelings involved. But for your own sanity, be realistic about what you’re potentially signing up for. Save yourself the heartache!

And before you tell me you’re not supposed to judge, that’s crap. Matthew 7:20 says, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” And that’s in red. Jesus himself actually said, “Judge people. Look at their life. Look at their choices.”

Trust me, I was the queen of turning a blind eye. I thought, “Who am I to judge?! I’m no unblemished lamb. So he drinks too much. He’s not hurting anyone but his own liver…” Or here’s my favorite: “He says he only hit his ex-wife once. But he suspected she was cheating, so it was justified… And he’d never hit me… Right?” We who are prone to codependency can justify bad behaviors 6 ways ’til Sunday. But it doesn’t make bad behavior good. And most importantly, you deserve to be honest with yourself. Love yourself enough to wait for a relationship worthy of your heart.

It may seem glamorous to be a knight in shining armor or Florence Nightingale. But you’re not the Savior. You CAN’T fix people. There is only One who can. And as much as you want to help, you’ll only muck it up. So stop. Let the unhealthy person get well on their own, without you. As painful as it is to walk away, it’s far more painful to invest yourself into someone who is incapable of reciprocating the level of love and commitment you are extending.

In a healthy relationship there should be mutual benefit. Both people growing, changing together and spurring each other toward success. There should be abundant positivity and mutual respect. Perhaps seasons of give and take. But always an outcome of equal levels of investment, care, respect and positivity. Put simply, the good should heavily outweigh the bad. We always talk about finding a person who is an intellectual or spiritual equal, but what about emotional equality? You’re looking for a companion in life, not a humanitarian project to keep you busy for the next who knows how long!

 

 

For more info about the effects of codependency, go to: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency